Hāngī fires up community water chat

A delicious community hāngī, enjoyed by local school children, marked the return of a special event for the Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee.

For more than a decade, the annual feast has been a fixture on the committee's calendar, but COVID-19 disruptions meant it took a two-year hiatus.

The hāngī was hosted by Richard and Annabelle Subtil at Ōmarama Station. Their farm provided a stunning backdrop to discussions about water management and traditional mahinga kai - in particular, the gathering of tuna/eel.

A meeting and a greeting

The day began with a water zone committee meeting in a farm shed, where members confirmed their support of various projects through their Action Plan budget.

At lunchtime, children from Ōmarama School were welcomed onto the property with a mihi whakatau led by Michael McMillan, the zone committee's Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua representative.

The youngsters then peeled off into groups and enjoyed a round of activities, including a stream-side invertebrate hunt, traditional Māori games, and a lesson about the tuna "trap and transfer" programme - which helps protect the species. They also learned about the life cycle and characteristics of this native fish.

Meanwhile, committee members returned to the shed to hear a presentation by PhD student Martha Jolly from the University of Canterbury about the latest science on Canterbury’s braided river habitat.

Sharing ideas over kai

As everyone regrouped around the smoking hāngī pit, Michael outlined the traditional underground cooking process. The children had plenty of questions about what the food would look and taste like.

After the kai was lifted, the children performed a waiata and a karakia, before being served a tasty selection of meats and vegetables by a team of volunteers.

Michael McMillan said the event was an opportunity to introduce the children to "our whakapapa".

"It’s a good way for us to promote ourselves and let the community know that this is our whenua – part of who we are.

"Many locals are screaming out for more knowledge of our pre-Pākehā history, so it’s good to get out and offer that – especially to kids. Getting them involved in some games and the hāngī is a way of promoting our traditional way of life. We want to encourage the community to learn about our past and be accepting of our values and join us.

"It also shows our manaakitanga (respect) and rangatiratanga (mana/leadership) for this area."

Mat Bayliss, Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee chair, said the day was about coming together.

"It’s an opportunity to gather and share ideas and values constructively. A huge thanks to Richard and Annabelle Subtil for their hospitality; this event has been a long time coming, and we’re super happy to be here."

The meal began with a karakia, led by the children

The steaming food was served by a team of volunteers

There were plenty of smiles as the children enjoyed the feast